BAGHDAD, Iraq – Shiite politicians failed Saturday to select a new prime minister as rivalry within their alliance forced a delay in the balloting. An Iraqi army spokesman was assassinated in Basra, a southern city plagued by lawlessness and violence by Shiite militias.
Members of the Shiite alliance who won seats in parliament in the December election gathered in Baghdad to discuss their choice for prime minister but postponed a vote for at least a day at the request of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's faction.
Shiite officials who attended the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the delay was due to last-minute differences between al-Sadr's faction and another group within the alliance.
Choosing a new premier, and in turn forming a long-term government, are key steps in Iraq's sluggish political process that the United States — and many Iraqis — hope will lead to an end to the bloodshed and an improvement in the daily lives for this country's 27 million people.
But the violence underscored the worsening sectarian nature of the country's conflict and the dangers facing Iraqi security forces, which the United States hopes will be able to control the insurgency so U.S.-led forces can go home.
An Iraqi tribal leader, Sheik Osama al-Jadaan, said his followers have seized more than 1,400 "terrorists" in a three-month counterinsurgency operation that began about a month ago along the Iraq-Syria border.
"This campaign aims at restoring security on the Iraqi-Syrian borders until the formation of the government and in assisting Iraqi forces to take control on Anbar" province, al-Jadaan said.
U.S. authorities have touted efforts by some Iraqi groups to combat foreign fighters and Iraqi insurgent groups in Anbar, where the insurgency is also influenced by tribal rivalries. U.S. military officials have been recruiting scouts among al-Jadaan's tribe after a rival tribe threw its support to the insurgents.
In the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, a U.S. Marine helicopter fired two rockets Saturday into an insurgent hide-out, killing six militants and wounding another, said Marine spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Pool.
The rocket attack followed clashes between U.S. soldiers and militants near the soccer stadium in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad. The wounded insurgent was taken to a military hospital for treatment and will be questioned.
In nearby Fallujah, gunmen in a red sedan shot dead a policeman Saturday as he was heading to work, police said.
Fallujah, a former insurgent stronghold 40 miles west of Baghdad, has become one of the tightest controlled cities in Iraq following the November 2004 U.S.-led operation to flush out militants. But deadly militant activity has resumed in recent weeks.
Iraqi army spokesman Capt. Makram al-Abbasi was killed in a hail of gunfire from a civilian car accompanied by a police vehicle Saturday in Basra, army Capt. Firas al-Tamimi said.
The British-controlled southern city also had been noted for its relative stability but has seen renewed violence, in part fueled by rival Shiite militias and local opposition to the coalition troop presence.
Al-Abbasi, a Sunni Arab, had been coordinating media coverage of raids conducted in the city, which largely target suspected Shiite militiamen that Sunnis say have infiltrated the Iraqi police force.
The most recent such operation for which al-Abbasi arranged coverage was last week when troops detained 22 people before all were mysteriously freed, al-Tamimi said.
In Baghdad's southern neighborhood of Dora, gunmen killed traffic policeman Ahmed Majeed Obaid as he left his home at midday, Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said.
Armed men also killed police Sgt. Bassem al-Rikabi while he patrolled in the southeastern Jisr Diyala area of the capital at about 11:30 p.m. Friday, police said.
Iraqi police forces are routinely targeted by Sunni Arab insurgents bent on derailing this country's post-Saddam Hussein reconstruction.
Members of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance — which has first crack at the prime minister's job since it won the largest number of seats in the Dec. 15 parliamentary election — convened at the home of political boss Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim.
However, the group announced that the session would be postponed until Sunday because some of al-Sadr's followers were unable to attend.
Speculation for the top government job has fallen on Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi and the current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Each is supported by two major factions in the Shiite alliance.
Parliament is supposed to convene within two weeks now that the certification of the results is complete, with choosing a figurehead president as the first order of business.
But an end to speculation over the new prime ministers could speed the process of forming the government, which is due to be completed by mid-May.
Meanwhile, kidnappers of American journalist Jill Carroll have given until Feb. 26 until their demands are met or they will kill their 28-year-old captive, according to the owner of a Kuwaiti private TV station that aired the latest tape showing the hostage Thursday.
Al Rai TV owner Jassem Boudai said the kidnappers contacted the station Friday with demands that were "more specific" than the release of all Iraqi female detainees, which the group laid down in the first tape released last month. Boudai refused to elaborate.
The U.S. military has released five Iraqi women from detention but said the releases were routine and not part of any swap for Carroll, who was abducted Jan. 7 in Baghdad. Five Iraqi women still remain in U.S. military custody.
"We continue to make every effort to secure her release, to see that she's back safe and sound with her family and her co-workers," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack in Washington. "We call upon her captors to release her immediately."